The new British Prime Minister Theresa May announced six members of her cabinet today.

Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, security forces have forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

It's an "unprecedented spike," the group says, with an average of three or four people disappeared every day.

The Republican Party, as it prepares for its convention next week has checked off item No. 1 on its housekeeping list — drafting a party platform. The document reflects the conservative views of its authors, many of whom are party activists. So don't look for any concessions to changing views among the broader public on key social issues.

Many public figures who took to Twitter and Facebook following the murder of five police officers in Dallas have faced public blowback and, in some cases, found their employers less than forgiving about inflammatory and sometimes hateful online comments.

As Venezuela unravels — with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation — President Nicolas Maduro is increasingly unpopular. But he's still holding onto power.

"The truth in Venezuela is there is real hunger. We are hungry," says a man who has invited me into his house in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, but doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals by the government.

The wiry man paces angrily as he speaks. It wasn't always this way, he says, showing how loose his pants are now.

Ask a typical teenage girl about the latest slang and girl crushes and you might get answers like "spilling the tea" and Taylor Swift. But at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the answers were "intersectional feminism" — the idea that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism — and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


Beach Beasts On The Move

Aug 9, 2013

Theo Jansen, the artist, writes on his website that he is occupied with creating new forms of life:

Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don't have to eat. ... eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.

PVC based life? Somehow the idea seems less crazy when you actually see his creations at work. Watch this video:

Of course it is one thing to make something that resembles the action or behavior of living beings. It's actually not that hard to do that. It seems to belong to our nature to see personality and life all around us, even in rag dolls and smiley faces. But it is another thing entirely to create something that is truly alive.

Looking at Jansen's handiwork reminded me of Karl Sims' marvelous digital simulations of natural evolution from back in the mid-1990s. Take a look at this video:

The question we are confronted with is: what is life? When would it be right to say that Jansen's or Sims' creatures are alive?

Jansen's intuition is that life is tied to problem-solving, to coping with basic tasks necessary for living. In the case of the beach beasts, this means letting the winds carry you along without being destroyed by their forces, navigating the shore without getting sucked into the water. Every change Jansen introduces to their design and function is a direct response to these real survival challenges. The result of this evolutionary process is, or would finally be, autonomy.

Jansen's beach animals have a loving creator. He tinkers, shepherds and improves them. Not so Sims' block creatures, whose development is managed by computer programming (genetic algorithms). Of course, one might just as well say that Sims' creatures are governed by Sims, who wrote the program. A more interesting reversal would be to appreciate that Jansen himself could be replaced by an algorithm.

Is it right that life is tied in this way to autonomy and problem-solving, to self-sustaining activity? Are living beings just machines that, within limits, can keep themselves up and running? Is the difference between Jansen's strandbeests as they exist today and their descendants that might someday patrol the coasts of Holland just a matter of degree? Or is life qualitatively different?

You can keep up with more of what Alva Noë is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit